Photo: Mustapha and the students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School before morning assembly. © UNHCR/Rahima Gambo - Photo: 2017

Nigerian ‘Unsung Hero’ Honoured with Major UN Award

By Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) – Zannah Mustapha, a champion for the rights of displaced children growing up amid violence in north-eastern Nigeria to get a quality education, was honoured with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR‘s Nansen Refugee Award on October 2 for his dedication and commitment to ensuring children and orphans affected by the conflict in Borno State can attend school. A lawyer turned property developer in Borno state, Mustapha also took part in mediating between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government.

Mustapha took home prize money of $150,000, funded in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Swiss Government, the Norwegian Government and the IKEA Foundation.

In the first online Facebook video of the UN agency, long-time journalist Yvonne Ndege recounted how Mustapha established the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation which houses a school for orphan children of both Boko Haram and the security forces and widows in Maiduguri – the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Over a decade, the school has grown from 36 students to 540. In 2016, Mustapha opened a second school just a few kilometres away from the first. Eighty-eight children, all of whom have fled conflict in the region, walk through its classroom doors each day.

Mustapha’s work in the region also includes negotiating the release of hostages. When the 21 young women who had been held captive for more than two years were released, Mustapha was there. He had been instrumental in securing their freedom – as well as the release of 82 additional Chibok girls in May 2017.

Mustapha and his volunteer group of educators know the risks they face, but their work is too important not to soldier on. “This school promotes peace,” Mustapha said. “It is a place where every child matters,” he added. “These children shall be empowered, empowered in such a way that they can stand on their own.”

The schools provide children affected by violence a free education, as well as free meals, uniforms and health care.

“Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN Refugee Agency’s High Commissioner. “The work Mustapha and his team are doing is of the utmost importance. With this award, we honour his vision and service,” he added.

In addition to his education work, Mustapha has demonstrated a commitment to helping all parts of society affected by conflict. His support was instrumental in setting up a cooperative for widows, providing much-needed support for nearly 600 women in Maiduguri.

The announcement of 2017 Nansen Refugee Award winner by the UN Refugee Agency, came in September as tens of thousands of Nigerian youth are growing up without an education. The country’s education sector is strained by its expanding youth population, and facilities in the north-east remain under attack by Boko Haram, who have destroyed schools and killed teachers.

“Schools lie at the heart of a society. Destroying them crushes the chance of Nigeria’s next generation succeeding,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Secretary General Jan Egeland, whose organization co-manages the Nanson Refugee Award project. “The recognition of Zannah Mustapha’s brave work highlights the importance of education for the future of Nigeria.”

UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. [IDN-InDepthNews – 2 October 2017]

Photo: Mustapha and the students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School before morning assembly. © UNHCR/Rahima Gambo

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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